FROM PRESS RELEASE
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Entering his eighth season at the helm of Maryland baseball, head coach Terry Rupp feels the 2008 Terrapin team is his most talented yet.
With an upperclassmen-heavy roster already in place, Rupp has added a solid group of freshmen and transfers to the squad, giving the team the flexibility in all aspects of the game that has not been seen in College Park, Md. for a long time.
“I think we’re much improved defensively, vastly improved offensively and as far as pitching is concerned, we’ve improved there, as well,” Rupp said. “I have high expectations for this club and the players have high expectations, too. The biggest asset of this club is that we’re a veteran-dominated team at the top and we have outstanding senior leadership. The guys who have been around here a few years now want to make sure that this is a breakout season for Maryland baseball.”
Of course, the team’s high hopes wouldn’t be possible if not for the strides the program made one short year ago.
After a record 18-5 start in 2007, including series wins at No. 27 NC State and at home against No. 6 Clemson, Maryland was receiving votes in the national polls before a road trip to ACC heavyweight Georgia Tech. However, a tough loss in the opening game of that series was a turning point in the year and the team never fully recovered from that setback, according to Rupp.
Rupp feels the team is ready to rebound from that disappointment and go out in 2008 to finish what it started last year.
“I think that was a big-time lesson for the coaching staff and the players,” said Rupp of the end of last season. “It showed that it’s a long season and you can’t let up or let things slide. I feel confident in these players to learn from that and that should really help us, especially in conference play where it’s a constant grind.”
In order for Maryland to improve from a season ago, it will have to replace three departed pitching stars, including southpaw Brett Cecil, the program’s all-time leader in saves, who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays with the 38th pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft. The Terps must also replace hurlers Ryan Moorer and Casey Baron, who were drafted in subsequent rounds.
Rupp, in conjunction with pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Jim Farr, addressed the need for arms in the incoming recruiting class. Maryland will have nine new pitchers on the staff in 2007.
Hitting-wise, the Terps should benefit from continuity as only one regular from 2007, shortstop Dan Melvin, is gone. The team added some power bats with this year’s freshman class and combined with the returning experience from previous seasons, the offense should be more productive than in years past.
Maryland will get a strong test right off the bat this season, starting with a season-opening road trip to Conway, S.C. for the IMIChotels.com INN-vitational hosted by Coastal Carolina. The Terps play the host Chanticleers, an NCAA Tournament regional host last season, Feb. 22 and Feb. 23 followed by a game against Pittsburgh Feb. 24. The home opener is Feb. 26 against in-state rival Towson. ACC play begins March 7 at Florida State. Other ACC series include: at Wake Forest, North Carolina, Clemson, at Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech, at Duke, at Boston College and NC State.
Minus the loss of shortstop Dan Melvin, the infield remains largely intact from last season.
Starting at third base will be junior Mike Murphy, who started all 56 games there last season. Murphy was one of only two players to bat over .300 a season ago and is constantly improving defensively.
“We feel like Mike is going to be a big asset to our team offensively and he’s solid defensively, as well,” Rupp said.
Filling the vacant spot at shortstop is expected to be Justin Mayse. A talented sophomore from Elkton, Md. via Cecil Community College, Rupp has full confidence in Mayse.
“Justin has good hands and a strong arm and we trust him to make every routine play that’s hit to him,” Rupp said. “We think we’re set there.”
The starting second baseman will be Steve Braun, the brother of Ryan Braun, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year winner from the Milwaukee Brewers. Braun was the regular second baseman a season ago but can also play shortstop and third base in a pinch.
“Steve is a great defensive player and he really came on with the bat in the second half of last season,” Rupp said. “He comes from some good genes, so hopefully he’ll have a breakout year like his brother did. I expect him to have a great year this year.”
First base is somewhat open, but junior Dan Benick appears to be the frontrunner.
“Dan has played all around for us. He can play anywhere in the infield or anywhere in the outfield,” Rupp said. “He was a high-school shortstop and whenever you can have a shortstop playing first base, you’ve really improved yourself.”
The catcher position is in good hands with senior Chad Durakis, one of the best backstops in the Atlantic Coast Conference. However, the emergence of junior Will Greenberg last season as well as in fall ball this season has earned him playing time behind the dish. Greenberg hit .299 in 40 games last season as a catcher and designated hitter, giving Rupp a solid platoon option.
“Both Chad and Will had tremendous falls and we feel we have a good luxury with platooning those two guys. I think that’s going to help both of them, offensively, because we’ll be able to keep them fresh,” Rupp said.
Junior Mike Moss will also see time behind the plate, challenging Durakis and Greenberg for playing time following a successful recovery from a fall ankle injury.
The Terps’ outfield is highlighted by sophomore standout AJ Casario in right field. Casario is on the Wallace watch list this season for the best player in college baseball.
Casario led the team in multiple offensive categories as a freshman, including average (.331), triples (three) and slugging percentage (.482).
“AJ is one of the best athletes in the ACC and he’s still getting better at the plate,” Rupp said. “I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of what he can do. He can run, he can throw and he can beat you with his power. No doubt, he’s going to be a major part of our offense.”
Senior Nick Jowers returns to center field for the fourth straight season as one of the top defensive players in the ACC.
“I think Nick is, without a doubt, one of the best defensive outfielders in our conference,” Rupp said. “He gets great breaks on the ball. And the thing with Nick is that he is still improving at the plate. Whereas before he was more of a streaky hitter, now he’s more of a consistent hitter. He had a fabulous fall and we’re expecting big things out of him.”
The left field position is expected to feature a platoon of senior Joe Palumbo and junior Gerry Spessard. Regardless of who is in the field, both players will see significant action either in the field or at designated hitter. Palumbo is a valuable swingman who can play multiple positions and Rupp has confidence to play him anywhere in the field.
With three players drafted a season ago, the Terps’ pitching staff took some hits, but Rupp doesn’t anticipate problems on the mound.
“As a whole, we feel our pitching staff is much improved from last year, despite losing three guys to the draft,” Rupp said.
As far as starters go, George Washington-transfer Scott Swinson seems to be the No. 1 starter, followed by Montgomery College-transfer Jensen Pupa in the No. 2 spot. The third spot is still up for grabs, with several players fighting for position.
“Swinson and Pupa are guys we feel can beat anyone in our league on any given night. It’s that third starter sport that’s still open,” Rupp said. “We have numerous guys competing for that job.”
In middle relief, the Terps will rely on several arms to carry the team. If the starters can get through five or six innings, Rupp believes he has plenty of talented arms to get the team to the late innings with a chance to win the game.
“I believe our middle relief is one of the strengths of our team,” Rupp said.
With the loss of Cecil to the Blue Jays, the Terps will hand over closing duties to senior Brad Taylor. Taylor pitched to a 1.77 ERA last season, the fifth-best mark in the ACC.